The old county fair scene was quite often given to admonitions by some of the local steam engine dealers and factory representatives to the larger horse-power farmers to stop buying 'fuel' for their steeds during the various periods of idleness between planting, cultivating, and harvesting. Certainly this was one good reason to rather invest in a fine new steamer, increase their productivity, make a saving in operating expense, and at the same time enjoy more conveniences.
And when the competition for sales sometimes grew rather keen, there often arose pretty warm arguments between different dealers in their bid for business which might even leave the prospective buyer at considerable confusion. Many claims for machines were actually unproven but were rather exaggerations, while some were simply astounding to a degree which gave doubt as to whether the salesman could really believe his own story.
It was upon one of these latter occasions that Jack Adkins, a local Huber salesman, was extolling the virtues of his 20 hp giant in order to displace Nels Albertson's 12 horsepower sweep which had been rigged to run a small sawmill in the nearby heavily wooded section of Cherry Creek, just off a fordable crossing which was a challenge every fall to any steam threshermen who might elect to tug his separator up the steep road on its banks. Many engine men would not even risk climbing this portion of the roadway empty and using towline on the balance of their load.
During this particular instance, Bud Williams, a factory representative for Russell, who had a 20 hp sample all steamed up, overheard just enough of this power conversation to immediately see his possibilities so thrust in an oar or should I say shovelful of course he had no full knowledge of the details nor familiarity with what might be going on about the countryside. But that made no difference since the sale was the thing.
'You need a real good steamer to do your work, alright, Mr. Albertson,' chided Bud into the conversation in in a voice loud enough to be heard above the sizzling pop of the Huber standing some twenty-five feet away from the Russell. 'But,' he continued, 'you better steer clear of one of those return-flue jobs because they won't pull the hat off your head let alone a string of plows, without turning over backwards.'
'Well now, I don't know about that, retorted Jack with uplifted and surprised eyebrows. 'If there is any money in it I might just show you a thing or two to make you change your mind.'
'Good land o' Goshen;' exclaimed Bud at this unexpected and seemingly groundless remark. 'Why, I'll lay you twenty dollars on the line right here that I can tie a chain to your kettle and have her looking up at the moon in nothing flat!'
By this time several other prospects had become drawn to attention and edged up to see what all the noise was about. The Huber popped off loudly as if to proclaim her prowess and Jack opened an injector to calm her down and conserve some of her burst of energy; but this only seemed to prod the Russell's manager into full action like a swinging prizefighter with a wet towel flung into his face. 'Mr. Albertson is a fair judge and good prospective buyer.' he said. 'So suppose we just lay our double eagles in his hands and let the loser clear out of the deal.'
This was readily agreed upon by Jack, while the surprised sawyer assumed his new responsibility with some credulity but great excitement, and someone went to fetch a log chain for a tug-of-war which might rightly ascend to position of the top event of the day. Many people, even with their children, were now leaving the midway attractions for this new promising bit of activity. Both engines had been headed away from the infield which contained a large collection of general farm machinery and information boo th es, together with some refreshment and lunch stands. This entirety was bounded by a half-mile harness racing track which sported two hours of entertainment each afternoon for the week. But right now, on a bright and lush 10:30 in the morning, Steam was becoming the chief attraction.
Bud had latched a heavy chain into his drawbar and headed on out some fifty feet distant, calling back, 'Come on there, fellow; let's not hold up the show. Get turned around and let's see you take up the slack in this binder.' But Jack simply proceeded to ease the Huber ahead gently, while the scallops on her canopy dangled gently in the breeze like the frills of a real sideshow awning; and he headed straight on towards his adversary, stopping just short within hitching distance between his front end and the rear of the restless Russell.
'Catch that chain in my draw eye under the toolbox up there,' Jack called to two old steam hands who were inquisitively standing closest by, and the deed was done ere you could say 'Jack Robinson.'
'What in thunder kind of contest is this?' stormed Bud, as Jack eased back a few inches to take up the slack. Many thoughts flew through Bud's mind as he belatedly began wondering what sort of tricks this return-flue job was up to. 'Well, you can't push on that chain,' shouted Jack; 'Anytime you are ready!' Now Bud had to be a good sport and could
see no way out of the predicament into which he had so carelessly ambled himself. He simply could not reach down and disconnect the chain, nor could he back out of a fair contest, honorably, that is. So he somewhat reluctantly began giving the Russell her reins ahead while Jack proceeded to nudge his pudgy charge into reverse.
The next few moments saw considerable clouds of smoke and cinders puffed into the sky with chuffing that could be heard above all other noises at the fair grounds. But the Russell, although she could turn her driving wheels on the solid sod with a bit more forward distribution of her weight, began losing ground in this contest with her opponent that rested most her weight 'on her hips' and at least could not be turned over front wards. So the matter appeared to become settled in a matter of seconds. And as Bud forfeited his share of the prize holdings he called to Mr. Albertson, 'I don't know what kind of work you are going to do with that heifer, but if you ever get into a jam where you can't go backwards, I'll be waiting.'